There’s a place and a time between work and home that’s neither professional nor domestic, but as familiar as both of them. English speakers call it happy hour; the French call it cinq à sept; Italians, aperitivo. It’s a where and a when to speak openly and easily – and in which we’re momentarily free.
Eat pig! Drink soju!
In Korea, drinking with colleagues often means the entire office has piled into a brightly lit, cafeteria-style soju bang – literally, “soju room” – and everyone is sitting on the floor getting wasted.
Upending the strict Confucian hierarchy that rules the office, this is the salaryman’s moment of existential release: blinking hesitantly at first under the harsh fluorescent lights, he’ll soon engage in a torrent of free speaking and taboo-breaking camaraderie with a coworker who has never before acknowledged his existence. Happy hour is a time and place where he makes his way between the office and his apartment, but it’s more than that: it’s a space to play at emotional intimacy and a carnival-like opportunity to disrupt the social order. All this, and his boss still nonchalantly pays for the whole escapade.
Don’t forget though, this is a matter of brute quantity – and this is reflected in the fact that two brands of Korean soju sit at first and third on the 2011 global list of best-selling liquors. In Korea, one commits to finishing the bottle of soju as soon as it’s opened. Luckily the soju bang is often close to a public transportation station. But if you’re too wasted to make it home, just lay your head down on a park bench, and while away the rest of your night unmolested.
Don’t worry. Nobody in the office will mention it tomorrow.